This story has been updated to include more expert insight since it was originally posted on 11/18/2021
Contrary to popular belief, carbs aren’t all bad. Certain ones, like those found in whole grains and vegetables, are filled with fiber that fills you up for the day without adding calories. This can help eliminate hunger pangs throughout the day, so these foods can work wonders for weight loss—they’re practically a nutritionist’s dream morning meal. But other carbs, i.e. refined ones, do almost the exact opposite. For this reason, eating these refined carbs in the morning can hold you back from reaching your weight loss goals.
To learn more, we spoke to dietitian Trista Best MPH, RD, LD of Balance One Supplements and Functional Medicine Gut Health Consultant Kelsey Mauro. They told us what happens to the body when you eat refined carbs like pancakes and muffins for breakfast:
First thing’s first: to understand how refined carbs impact your body and lead to weight gain, it’s important to understand what, exactly, they are. “Foods made with refined carbohydrates are those that have undergone a processing step which removes portions of the grain’s nutrients and adds them back in synthetically,” Best explains, noting that “this process lessens beneficial nutrients and causes it to take a form that the body processes quickly.” As for some of the worst culprits, Mauro lists bagels, donuts, pastries, biscuits, white toast and bright, sugary cereal.
When it doesn’t take our body much time to consume the carbs we eat, a glucose spike and insulin response can be expected. “Eating refined carbs for breakfast slows weight loss because these carbs are easily digested by your body which can rapidly cause your blood sugar to rise rapidly and can stimulate cravings leading to more overeating,” Mauro explains. This can lead to serious health consequences, especially when you’re trying to lose weight. “This will ultimately cause the body to store weight more easily and become less sensitive to insulin,” Best warns.
Over time, starting your morning with refined carbs can even lead to diabetes. But regardless, it’s never a great way to begin the day. “Eating this form of carbohydrate in the morning can be harmful as it sets the tone for the rest of your day,” says Best.
There’s another health issue to be wary of, as well; Best warns that refined carbs can also “wreak havoc on the body through gut dysbiosis and inflammation.” It works like this: the imbalance in gut bacteria and inflammation will cause your metabolism to slow down as it compensates for the presence of chronic inflammation.
“Gut dysbiosis will also affect your ability to lose weight and maintain your weight loss,” she says. “If digestion quality is disrupted, there will be a lack of absorbed nutrients important to metabolism.”
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So—what should you eat instead? “Rather than relying on refined carbohydrates for breakfast, turn to lean proteins and whole grains,” Best advises.
Nutritionist Amy Adams, RDN, LDN, offers similar advice. “I recommend choosing breakfasts that contain an abundance of vegetables such as spinach, mushrooms, peppers, and protein like eggs,” she says.
You can add carbohydrates, but stick to something like whole fruit or dairy like Greek yogurt. The fiber from the vegetables and fruits help slow down the blood sugar spike and the protein will help your food digest more slowly and helps you avoid a large sugar spike,” Adams concludes. Sounds delicious—and healthy!
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